“FAR: Changing Tides” follows the journey of Toe, a young adventurer. Avoiding any sort of heavy set-up, it simply opens up, with the boy plunging into the water and swimming through a partially submerged city. The enlarged camera is reminiscent of the work of Danish development studio Playdead, of which “Inside” seems to be an obvious influence. Beautiful lighting and water effects, paired with a muted, rusty color palette, imbue the game with a beautiful aesthetic enriched by composer Joel Schoch’s understated, melancholy soundtrack.
Before long, Toe goes to a building and acquires an astronaut-like suit with a retractable propeller around his neck that helps him navigate deep water. Later, he stumbles upon a ship with a mast that folds up at the push of a button. A lever next to the mast allows Toe to adjust the sails. It doesn’t take long, however, before the boy must face one of the many obstacles that interrupt his journey. To move his ship forward, Toe will have to play with all sorts of machinery in and out of the water, as well as make upgrades and repairs on the ship. Eventually, Toe acquires a steam engine which he must supply with a steady supply of fuel to keep it running. Further down the line, his ship gains the ability to transform into a submarine.
The game jumps between puzzle sections where players must figure out how to get the ship from one point to another and expands where there’s not much to do but bask in the splendor of traveling through an alluring post-apocalyptic landscape devoid of other people. These serene moments are your reward for doing the painstaking work of moving the ship over, under, and through an increasing series of obstacles.
As I fell into the rhythm of adjusting the sail, fueling the furnace and hosing the motor when it threatened to overheat, I noticed how much my concentration was shrinking and these tasks were becoming quite consuming. “FAR: Changing Tides” effectively makes the ship feel like its own little world. Keeping the ship moving often comes down to performing tasks off the ship, such as moving a power source with a crane, sawing a piece of wood, or heating up the engine to generate electrical power that can be used in different situations. The tricky puzzles around these satisfying low-key activities had me soaking up the relaxing sight of watching the ship sail through the water, unimpeded.
“FAR: Changing Tides” skillfully evokes the blissful passion for travel. It’s the perfect antidote to overstuffed and bloated video games.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.